If you do, then you’re probably kinda old.
It was 26 years ago, in March 1989, when Arista Records released GIRL YOU KNOW IT’S TRUE, the debut album (at least in America, it had previously been released in Europe under the title All Or Nothing) of Milli Vanilli, a pop/rap/dance duo consisting of Rob Pilatus and Fab Morvan, from France and Germany, respectively. The album was almost instant smash success, on the strength of hit singles such as the title track.
Along with other hits like BABY DON’T LOSE MY NUMBER, and GIRL I’M GONNA MISS YOU and BLAME IT ON THE RAIN, these guys were huge. They dominated the charts for the rest of the year, by January 1990 the album had gone 6 times platinum. Despite some public criticism that their music was lightweight, and they were just a couple of “pretty boys” getting by on their looks, these guys had become bonafide superstars. In February of that year they won the Grammy Award for Best New Artist
But just as quickly as the rose, they fell down. Nine months after winning the Grammy, their producer Frank Farian revealed to the world that Pilatus and Morvan did not actually sing any of the songs on their album. An entirely different group of singers recorded the tracks, at Farian’s direction, while Pilatus and Morvan simply posed for the album covers and then lip-synched the songs in their videos and in concerts. The funny thing is, I remember the shock when this story broke. This was unprecedented. It had been suspected by many that they had been lip-singing on stage (a common practice with many pop acts even today), but it was still thought that at least they were miming their own voices. But, looking back, it now seems pretty obvious. All you have to do is listen to their songs and then hear them speak in interviews, and it’s so clear that it’s not the same voices.
Anyway, the guys were disgraced, their label was embarrassed and recalled all of their albums. There were even class action lawsuits filled by people who had bought their albums and gone to their concerts, demanding refunds. Milli Vanilli became a laughing stock.
But, y’know, I have to say, I always felt a little sorry for those guys, and I still feel that got a bad rap. Not denying that they engaged in a massive fraud, but it was their producer who put them up to this. They were a couple of poor Black kids in Germany, this producer came along and promised them fortune and fame to go along with this. Should they have? No. But a lot of people make bad decisions in search of fame. I’m not sure I wouldn’t have done the same if I’d been in their situation. And it’s not like these guys just stood still and lip-synched the words, they had a big choreographed show, so they had to go on stage and dance every night as they toured the world. That’s a lot of hard work.
I also think it’s notable that the real reason this came out is because they insisted that they be allowed to sing on their next album. They didn’t want to fake it anymore, But Farian didn’t like their voices and didn’t want to go along with it, so that’s why he suddenly decided to reveal the truth.
Two years later, now using the name Rob & Fab, the men tried to stage a comeback, recording a new album themselves, and they released a new single called We Can Get It On, which was decent, if not spectacular. But it showed that they had some actual vocal talent (well, at last Fab did).
Sadly, their new record label was a small independent company that couldn’t do much promotion. And perhaps the comeback was a little too soon? Maybe a few more years things could have been different. They did try another comeback in 1997, reuniting with Frank Farian as producer, who also enlisted some of the original singers from the original songs. Sadly, by then Rob Pilatus had fallen to a live of drugs and petty crime and died of a drug overdose on April 2, 1998. Bringing this whole saga to a very sad ending…